By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) – Champions Barcelona reclaimed top spot in La Liga after overcoming Villarreal 2-0 without producing much spark, capitalising on title rivals Atletico Madrid and Sevilla drawing away to Girona and Alaves respectively.
Here are five talking points from the weekend’s action.
Having slumped to a shock 4-3 defeat by Real Betis in their last outing at the Nou Camp, it was paramount that Barcelona got back to winning ways against Villarreal, and although they took the three points their display left a lot to be desired.
Philippe Coutinho was booed off the pitch after an anonymous display and even Lionel Messi struggled to liven up a lukewarm atmosphere until late in the game, when he set up youngster Carles Alena’s goal which sealed the win.
Barca have become renowned over the last decade for monopolising possession but for the second home game running they saw far less of the ball than they are used to, with coach Ernesto Valverde conceding “without the ball, we suffer”.
“This Barca is not like the team of the past years,” said the match report in newspaper Marca. “This Barca wins, but they do not convince.”
Atletico may have turned their new Wanda Metropolitano stadium into a fortress but they badly need to improve their away form if they are to maintain their bid for the league title.
Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Girona was the sixth time in seven games that Diego Simeone’s side have dropped points on the road this campaign and led to them slipping three points behind leaders Barca.
Atletico have the best home record in the league but they have taken a meagre eight points in seven away trips, giving them a worse away record than the likes of Levante, Valladolid and Getafe.
ISCOGETSTOUCHYOVER ‘FAT’ JIBES
Real Madrid midfielder Isco has had a tough week, being left out of the squad against AS Roma in the Champions League and not making the starting XI against Valencia on Saturday, although he did come off the bench in the 2-0 win.
The talented Spanish international’s absence from the team has led to some social media users commenting on his physical state and accusing him of piling on the pounds.
Isco hit back with a peculiar post of his own, launching a poll on his Instagram account with a picture of himself topless in front of a mirror bearing his muscles, asking his followers “Am I fat?”
Cristhian Stuani may be third choice striker for Uruguay behind Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani but the Girona forward continues to be the top scorer in La Liga and took his goal tally to 11 by winning and converting a penalty in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Atletico.
Stuani is responsible for 65 percent of Girona’s goals this season, although he faces competition in the scoring charts from another unfashionable but prolific striker in Iago Aspas.
Aspas, who flopped at Liverpool and cannot hold down a starting position for Spain, struck both goals in Celta Vigo’s 2-0 win over Huesca to move on to 10 strikes for the campaign, second behind Stuani.
EIBARGETCOMPLACENT AT RAYO
Eibar’s euphoria after humbling Real Madrid 3-0 last week did not last long, and on Friday they became the first team to lose away to relegation-fighting Rayo Vallecano.
Rayo, who had not won since early September, had only one shot on target and barely a third of possession but scraped a 1-0 victory which had Eibar coach Jose Luis Mendilibar cursing his side’s complacency.
“We began dominating and were going all out to win but I don’t know if we thought it was going to be too easy as we started to relax,” he said.
“When you see a team like Rayo on the ropes, you have to kill them off.”
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge)